Two very different international experiences have shaped Michael Kurt ’09. One trained his mind; the other, his heart.

In the summer of 2008, Kurt, an accounting major at Mays Business School at Texas A&M University, spent four weeks doing humanitarian work in the poorest regions of Central America before flying to England for a course at the London School of Economics. Both experiences have changed the way Kurt sees the world, himself, and the future.

Michael Kurt '09 (bottom left) was one of seven A&M students who spent time this past summer working at Casa Hogar, an orphanage for young girls in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.
Michael Kurt ’09 (bottom left) was one of seven A&M students who spent time this past summer working at Casa Hogar, an orphanage for young girls in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

This trip was his first time abroad. “It was the most eye-opening experience,” said Kurt. “I grew so much in terms of understanding myself and understanding the world…looking back on my time at A&M, this summer was one the of the single most important times of my experience here.”

While in Central America, Kurt and six other Aggies involved with the Full Hearts Foundation ( spent time working at Casa Hogar, an orphanage for young girls in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. The group also traveled to Monterrey and Veracruz to work with the organization Caritas, which gives food and assistance to the poor.

Kurt and fellow Aggie Greg Kwedar ’07 continued south after their teammates went home. Their trip ended in Guatemala, where their business training came in handy as they worked with Safe Passage (, an organization that provides street children with food, education, and a safe place for activities.

“We told them about our involvement with the Mays Business Fellows and they put us to work immediately,” said Kurt. (Kwedar, a marketing major, was also part of the Fellows program.) Together, the young men created training videos and manuals for volunteers and taught classes. They had planned to stay for one week, but the need was so great, they worked for two.

“Along the journey, the common theme was finding your passion, finding your niche, finding where you can make a change in the world,” he said.

“By getting out of my comfort zone and gaining a wider perspective, a new lens to view the world, I began to feel a burning desire inside of me to live. But what does it mean “to live’? How do I want to spend each day? What will be my life’s work? How will I be able to leave a positive mark on the world?”

Taken from Michael Kurt’s blog about his summer experience, “Life in a moment” (

It was a jarring juxtaposition when Kurt left Guatemala and soon after flying to England. With classmates from schools like Harvard, Yale, and Duke, he completed a month-long study abroad course in business analysis and valuation at the London School of Economics.  It was difficult for him to go from an environment of extreme poverty into a world of such affluence, where the focus shifted from serving others to building wealth. Still, he says that the experience gave him perspective.

“There’s this drive in the business world to measure your success by your income,” said Kurt. “It’s so easy to jump on that business train. People are telling you this is what’s right.” After his experience in Central America, Kurt says he isn’t motivated by the big paycheck his business degree could help him land. He is looking for more than that out of life.

After a summer of traveling around the globe, Kurt knows that his life must be dedicated to helping others.
After a summer of traveling around the globe, Kurt knows that his life must be dedicated to helping others.

Yet, Kurt says his experience at the London School of Economics was very valuable. The class content and the diversity of people he met challenged him intellectually. “It was interesting to look at business principals from new cultural perspectives and to see how people from different places see issues,” he said. “The most important thing I learned was how much I didn’t know.”

Among his Ivy League classmates, Kurt and the other two Aggies in the class held their own. “We all did extremely well. Aggies can compete with the best of the best….we were as intellectual as those others. It made me so proud to be at A&M.”

As for the future, Kurt says his experiences over the summer have changed his plans. He was planning to intern in New York City with Ernst & Young’s financial services office in the summer of 2009 and graduate from the professional program in accounting in 2010. He’s scrapped that plan, and will now spend the summer taking classes outside the business school, accruing the science credits he’ll need to apply to medical school. After becoming a doctor, Kurt says he plans to use his dual areas of expertise to start a non-profit healthcare organization.

Whatever his career will be, Kurt knows one thing for sure: his life must be dedicated to helping others. “I won’t be fulfilled and content in a job if I’m not doing something like that,” he says.

Categories: Featured Stories, Students

Combining academic research with corporate challenges, the Center for Retailing Studies and Mays Business School at Texas A&M University will host its first Thought Leadership Conference, January 29-30, 2009. The event, held on the A&M campus, will bring together the leading minds in retail to discuss real-world problems facing the industry.

Manjit Yadav, research director for the center and associate professor of marketing at Mays, says that 45 scholars and executives are expected to attend the invitation-only conference. The event will focus on the theme “Emerging Perspectives on Marketing in a Multichannel and Multimedia Retailing Environment.”

Keynote speakers will include John Deighton, professor of marketing at Harvard University and editor of the Journal of Consumer Research; and John Irvin, former head of JCPenney Direct. Representatives from companies including HEB, Maritz Research, and the Zale Corporation will be in attendance.

“This conference takes the center to a new level of excellence with increased emphasis on retailing research,” says Cheryl Bridges, director of the Center for Retailing Studies and executive professor of marketing at Mays. “The forum for collaboration of noted scholars and industry executives establishes a unique opportunity for creation of new knowledge.”

A unique feature of this conference is that it will be structured as a series of workshop sessions rather than only lectures. Mixed teams of academics and executives will work on an assigned topic related to the theme of the conference, such as online and offline retail pricing, and consumer behavior in a multichannel/multimedia retailing environment. The results of the teams’ efforts will be presented at the conclusion of the conference.

After receiving feedback, each team will submit a manuscript based on their findings, which will be reviewed and potentially published in a special issue of the Journal of Interactive Marketing that Yadav and fellow professor of marketing Venkatesh Shankar will co-edit. Shankar is also the co-chair of the conference.

Yadav says that he hopes the conference will enhance the center’s national reputation in the area of research. The Mays marketing department and Center for Retailing Studies, Mays Business School, and the Marketing Science Institute are joint sponsors of the conference.

About the Center for Retailing Studies

The Center for Retailing Studies promotes and supports retailing through student and executive education programs, research and service. In 2008, it celebrated its 25th anniversary as an educational unit within Mays Business School.

Categories: Centers

To survive in the corporate world, a solid business education is a must. L.E. Simmons knows that the Business Honors program at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School prepares its students for real-world success after graduation. Supporting the education of future business leaders is important to Simmons, which is why he and his wife, Virginia, recently agreed to give $100,000 to establish the Virginia and L.E. Simmons Family Foundation Honors Scholarship at Mays Business School.

The Simmons’ scholarship will support students in the Business Honors program, which pairs the best students and faculty in small class sizes to facilitate discussion and greater exploration of the subject matter. In addition, students in the program participate in leadership, personal, and professional development events.

“Affordable and high-quality education is a vital stepping-stone in life,” said Mays Dean Jerry Strawser. “The Business Honors program is our premier training ground for our best and brightest students. We are so thankful to the Simmons for their gift, which will enable more young people to join our program and realize their true potential.”

Simmons and his wife did not attend Texas A&M University, but say they have always admired the school and the achievements of its faculty, staff, and students. When their son, William ’11, graduated from high school, A&M was his one and only choice for college, increasing the Simmons’ ties to the university. William entered the Business Honors program in his first year of college, but has since put his business education on hold to do mission work in Santiago, Chile. He plans to return to Mays after a two-year sabbatical to finish his degree. The Simmons’ daughter, Virginia, is a junior at her father’s alma mater, the University of Utah, and plans to pursue a career in elementary education.

After earning his undergraduate degree, Simmons attended the London School of Economics and later completed an MBA at Harvard Business School. In 1974, Simmons moved to Houston to begin his own investment-banking firm, Simmons & Company, specializing in financial advising for the energy industry. In 1988, Simmons began SCF Partners, another investment firm, where he continues to work today.

In addition to his professional accomplishments, Simmons has served as chairman of the board for the Texas Children’s Hospital and continues as a board member currently. He also belongs to the North American Advisory Council for the London School of Economics, is a trustee for Rice University, is a member of the Harvard Business School visitor’s committee, and is chairman of the board for the Houston Endowment, the state’s largest foundation. Virginia Simmons is also involved in a number of community activities, giving a large portion of her time to organizations such as Trees for Houston and the LDS Church.

Simmons explains that he and his wife are thankful for their adoption into the Aggie family and want to give as many students as possible the opportunity to realize the positive effects of the business program. “Mays Business School does not only teach good business principles, but more importantly, it places a high focus on integrity and collaboration with other institutions, something we feel is of the utmost importance,” he said.

Categories: Donors Corner, Programs

Service is a concept James B. Striplin ’47 well understands. Since the days of his youth when he served in the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M University, Striplin has been familiar with the importance of dedicating time, energy, and gifts to worthwhile causes. This spirit of service led Striplin to give $25,000 to Mays Business School to establish the James B. Striplin ’47 Endowed Scholarship.

“It warms my heart when former students touch the future by giving back to A&M,” said Mays Dean Jerry Strawser. “Mr. Striplin’s gift is a wonderful testament to the spirit of service that is so prevalent at this university.”

After Striplin earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from A&M in 1947, he entered the Army, serving in World War II and the Korean War. When his military time ended, he began a career in banking, eventually heading up the Bank of Prattville as Chairman and CEO. The bank, located in Autauga County, one of the fastest growing areas in Alabama, had four locations at the time it merged with Whitney Holding Corporation in 2001. In addition to his successful professional career, Striplin contributed a significant amount of his time to community involvement, holding positions on boards and committees for the First United Methodist Church, the City of Prattville, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Alabama Bankers Association, Alabama Law Institute, and the Coosa-Alabama River Improvement Association.

“I received a business degree from Texas A&M, so it was only logical for me to help a hardworking student fulfill their dreams of success. Texas A&M is an excellent institution; it makes leaders out of people,” Striplin said.

Today, Striplin is enjoying life in his Prattville, Alabama, home, thankful for the prosperity that he has earned through so many years of hard work. He continues to believe in the importance of giving back to those who contributed to his success, and urges future students to share his support for service.

Categories: Donors Corner, Former Students

Though they aren’t former students of Texas A&M University, Aggie parents Jeff and Shana Wood feel a strong connection to the school and believe that the spirit and the product that comes out of the university deserve recognition. That’s why they decided to give $25,000 to Mays Business School to establish the Shana and Jeff Wood Honors Scholarship.

“The Woods’ generosity will have a deep impact on the lives of students at Mays,” said Dean Jerry Strawser. “It is really meaningful when people who have been impacted by this school make giving back a priority. We are thankful for friends like the Woods.”

Wood, who attended school in California, currently serves as president of Landmark Resources, Inc. in Houston, Texas. He and his wife, Shana, volunteer their time with Yellowstone Academy, a Christian elementary school, where they help students in inner city Houston. Wood is also a deacon at Second Baptist Church, and he serves on the president’s cabinet at the College of Biblical Studies. He says he strongly believes in the promise that Aggie students display when they enter the business world. “Everyone we know from Texas A&M University is a great example of integrity and honesty. We love the product that we have seen come out of Texas A&M through the academics, emphasis on moral character, and strong principles,” Wood said.

The Woods fill their weekend time with Aggie football games, as their oldest son Jeff ’09, a sports management major, holds a position on the football team. The Woods’ daughter, Elizabeth, also attends Texas A&M and is member of the class of 2011. Both children plan to finish their education at Mays Business School, as Jeff plans to pursue a master’s degree in either real estate or finance, and Elizabeth aims to focus her undergraduate education on a degree in marketing. The Woods’ youngest son will graduate from high school in 2010.

“The whole experience of Texas A&M University is a wonderful thing. It’s something that anyone would be fortunate to be a part of, and we want to use what we’ve been blessed with to help make that a reality for deserving students,” said Wood.

Categories: Donors Corner

Whom would you rather give money to: a needy person in your neighborhood, or a needy person in a foreign country? According to new research from Karen Winterich, if you’re a man, you’re more likely to give to the person closest to you, that is, the one in your neighborhood—if you give at all.

If you’re a woman, you’re more likely to give, and to give equal amounts to both groups.

Research by Mays assistant professor of marketing Karen Winterich says that charitable behavior to different groups by an individual can be determined based on just two factors: gender and moral identity.
Research by Mays assistant professor of marketing Karen Winterich says that charitable behavior to different groups by an individual can be determined based on just two factors: gender and moral identity.

Winterich, an assistant professor of marketing at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School, says that she can predict charitable behavior to different groups by an individual based on just two factors: gender and moral identity. (Moral identity is a measure of not how moral a person actually is, but rather how important it is to that person to be caring, kind, fair, honest, etc.) The results of Winterich’s studies involving American participants have implications for those in the fundraising arena.

The study looked at how people responded to a need within an “ingroup” and an “outgroup.” An ingroup has an obvious connection to the potential donor, such as distance or ethnicity, while the outgroup might have nothing more than humanity to relate it to the donor.

In the study, participants completed a survey to gauge their moral identity. Later on, each was given five $1 bills and three options: keep the cash, give it to a Hurricane Katrina relief fund, or give it to a relief fund for victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami.

The results were very consistent. Women with higher moral identity were more likely to split their dollars evenly between the two charities. Women with lower moral identities gave more to the ingroup (Katrina victims).

Men with high moral identities gave to the ingroup, but seldom to the outgroup (tsunami victims). Men with low moral identities pocketed the cash.

Winterich’s work reinforces other studies of moral identity that show its correlation to how an individual expands his or her bubble of concern to include others. Low moral identity indicates a person will be more focused on self; high moral identity means a person will be more focused on others.

The bottom line for fundraisers, says Winterich, is that they need to examine how they position themselves relative to their potential donor. Charities must focus on the relationship between the donor and cause to be sure that the charity is viewed as an ingroup, particularly if men are the target. Also, since women tend to be more generous, charities should target them specifically whenever possible.

Additionally, priming a potential donor to think about their moral identity can make them more charitable than they might otherwise be.

There was one other surprise from this study. “It was shocking to me how much they gave. I think it says good things for society,” said Winterich. This new research is forthcoming in the Journal of Consumer Research. Co-authors on the paper are Vikas Mittal at Rice University and William T. Ross at Penn State University.

Categories: Research Notes

The Executive MBA Program at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School has been ranked #1 in the nation for its return on investment, according to data from the Wall Street Journal. The publication surveyed executive MBA graduates in the summer of 2008 and used factors such as raises received after graduation, company-sponsorship figures, tuition, and out-of-pocket costs to determine the ranking.

Mays’ program, showing an ROI of a whopping 243 percent, was at the top of the list, which included 27 U.S. schools and nine international programs.

“This success is the result of the program’s strong core values,” said Julie Orzabal, EMBA program director at Mays. “We enlist senior faculty, limit program admissions to ensure a quality peer group, and consistently review our curriculum to ensure that our participants walk away with knowledge that is immediately applicable.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, low tuition and a no-frills focus are at the heart of the executive MBA program at Mays. The class of 2008 paid just $53,000 for a 21-month program—that’s half the cost of the same program at many other universities. Graduates of the Mays program reported an initial raise in salary of 11 percent, with a five year projected salary of $181,718.

About the Mays Executive MBA program

The Mays Executive MBA Program equips today’s working leaders with the skills and knowledge they need to excel in a rapidly changing organizational environment. Based in The Woodlands just north of Houston, the unique program is built around an ongoing study of how value is created in all aspects of an organization’s operations. Peer discussion and real-world case studies replace the typical lecture-driven classroom format. The result is a highly interactive learning environment that provides each participant with knowledge they can put to work immediately. The 18-month program begins a new class each August. For more information, please contact the Mays Executive MBA office at

Mays Business School currently enrolls more than 4,000 undergraduate students and 875 graduate students. Mays is nationally ranked among public business schools for the quality of its undergraduate program, MBA program and the faculty scholarship of its 105 professors in five departments.

Further Coverage

Categories: Programs

As the former chief risk officer of Citigroup, Jorge Bermudez ’73 knows a thing or two about the current economic crisis. Bermudez spent 33 years with the company in a variety of management roles before retiring in July of 2008 to start his own consulting firm. During a recent campus visit, he spoke with students at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School about his career, the state of the economy, and the future of business.

As chief risk officer, Bermudez looked at the risk processes at Citigroup that led to their current financial situation. He helped to create a new company risk-management architecture to prevent future instances like this from happening.

Jorge Bermudez ’73 (right) spent 33 years at Citigroup before retiring in July to start his own consulting firm.
Jorge Bermudez ’73 (right) spent 33 years at Citigroup before retiring in July to start his own consulting firm.

“Many people say that this financial crisis that we’re in started in July of last year. That’s like saying…my sneeze is the cause of my tuberculosis,” said Bermudez. In his opinion, the roots of today’s problems began in 1998, when the Glass-Steagall Act was modified to allow commercial and investment banks to merge, creating a riskier environment for investing, with more potential for loss as well as gain. The other factor was the artificial liquidity the U.S. government had injected into the economy for the past eight years to stave off recession. Together, Bermudez says those two factors created a level of greed on Wall Street that led to inappropriate risk management.

A student asked, is more regulation the key to reversing this trend? Bermudez says yes, there has to be more effective regulation, especially in light of the recent bailouts. “There had to be a bailout,” he said. “Without the bailout, this country and the world would be having really tough times…We learned that from the Great Depression.” However, he fears without proper regulation, the bailouts could lead to even riskier investing and larger financial repercussions, as banks are now backed by the government, thus reducing accountability. “Something has to change,” he said.

A good place for that change to start, says Bermudez, would be for companies to stop rewarding greed: Bermudez recommends executive compensation should reflect the performance as well as the risk incurred by the individual. “To me, that is a way to capture greed, and keep it somewhat in check,” he said. He also says American businesses need to improve communication with risk officers, so that appropriate dynamic risk-adjusted returns become an integral part of business management.

“There is no substitute for working hard,” Bermudez told students. “That’s one thing in your early careers that will differentiate you.”

He had practical advice for students about managing their future careers, as well. “Don’t do anything you don’t understand,” Bermudez told them, encouraging students to ask questions at work and dig beneath the surface of an issue before making a decision. He also reminded them that their integrity is their most valuable asset. “If it comes down to losing your job or losing your standards, lose your job!” he told them. “It is absolutely not worth it to violate your ethical standards.”

Originally from Cuba, Bermudez holds a bachelors and a master’s degree in Agricultural economics. After he graduated from A&M with his MA in 1975, he was one of the first Aggies to go to work for Citigroup in their New York office, where he worked as an international banker.

“Texas A&M has given me an education that allows me to compete with anyone,” he told students. “It doesn’t matter where you went to school, it’s the quality and the quantity of the work that you’re willing to provide that will set you apart…you are coming out of this university extremely well prepared.”

Categories: Executive Speakers, Former Students

The quality of healthcare may soon be improved, thanks to award-winning research from faculty members at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School. Two members of the faculty in the marketing department at have won the 2008 Journal of Service Research (JSR) Best Article Award. Co-authors Janet Parish, clinical associate professor and assistant department head, and Distinguished Professor and Zale Chair Len Berry received the award at the American Marketing Association Frontiers in Service Conference held at the University of Maryland in October 2008.

Leonard Berry

Presented annually to the best article in the previous volume of JSR, the award is sponsored by IBM, the world’s largest service company and leader of the Services Science, Management, and Engineering Initiative, a challenge for academics to be more systematic in service sector innovations. As winners, Parish, Berry, and their coauthor Shun Yin Lam of the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, were presented with plaques and a $2,000 cash prize.

Their article, “The effect of the servicescape on service workers,” appeared in the Journal of Service Research, Volume 10, in February 2008. The research focuses on three elements (pleasantness, safety, and convenience) of the physical environment of the workplace, or “servicescape,” upon service workers’ job stress and job satisfaction, and subsequently, their commitment to the organization and referral intentions. Part of their study focused on healthcare.

“Nurse retention is one of the major healthcare issues today,” said Parish. “Our research shows that the hospital facilities in which nurses work influence their job satisfaction, loyalty to the hospital, and willingness to refer the hospital to prospective employees and patients. Hospital administrators must consider the needs of nurses and other caregivers as well as patients and their families when designing hospitals. Nursing is physically and emotionally stressful work and the design of the facilities in which the work occurs is critical.”

Janet Parish

Both Berry and Parish are highly respected researchers in their field. Parish holds BSBA and MBA degrees from the University of Southern Mississippi and a PhD in marketing from the University of Alabama. Parish’s research interests include relationship marketing, services marketing, customer service and satisfaction, and the role of frontline employees in service encounters. Parish teaches a variety of marketing courses including principles of marketing and services marketing. Her research has appeared in Journal of Organizational Change Management, Annals of Family Medicine, Health Environments Research and Design Journal, MIT Sloan Management Review, Journal of Interactive Marketing, and Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Parish serves as an ad-hoc reviewer for several publications.

In addition to teaching in the marketing department, Berry is also a professor of humanities in medicine in the College of Medicine at The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center. During the 2001-2002 academic term he served as a visiting scientist at Mayo Clinic studying healthcare service. He is the founder of Texas A&M’s Center for Retailing Studies and served as its director from 1982 through June 2000. He is also a former national president of the American Marketing Association. Berry has published widely, and has been identified as the most frequent contributor to the English-language services marketing literature in the world.

Among other accolades, Berry has been recognized with the highest honor Texas A&M bestows on a faculty member three times: the Distinguished Achievement Award in Teaching and the Distinguished Achievement Award in Research (twice). He is also a member of the board of directors of several major public companies and national not-for-profit organizations.

Categories: Faculty, Research Notes